Connections were an important part of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus connected with each of the disciples in a unique way and was always connected with God. If we take time to think about it, most of what we and our congregations are missing right now are the layers of connections that we normally have in our communities of faith. Over the past week I have started to hear people share, “I miss seeing, hearing, and being with (fill in the blank with a name).” We can all feel the ache of missing our connection with other people.
I know many of us have had a crash course in how to leverage many forms of technology to help keep people connected through worship, small groups, Bible studies, prayer groups, ministry teams, etc. In addition, some of us have had an opportunity to use our love for technology to share the Good News in exciting new ways. Many of us have set up blogs, Facebook pages, Zoom meetings, Instagram accounts, and those only scratch the surface of our technology tools. The world of technology has been flooded with a viral revival. However, I was reminded that not everyone in the congregation I serve or in my community have technology available. A pastor in my missional hub reminded me that the majority of his congregation has either low or no technology capabilities. This brought up a great question: What are some simple, low to no technology opportunities for staying connected as the Body of Christ, as a community, and as a congregation? This question started my quest for innovation in low to no technology settings.What are some simple, low to no technology opportunities for staying connected as the Body of Christ, as a community, and as a congregation? Click To Tweet
Each of the connection points that follow work with any size congregation and require low to no technology capabilities. Remember, it’s important to make sure you have permission to contact your people in specific ways; some people might have trouble talking on the phone, some might be charged for texts, some might have privacy concerns with their information being shared. If they’ve given their contact info to the church in the past, check in with them to make sure regular communication by a certain method is welcome now, and always follow safety guidelines and policy when reaching out in any way to your youth. Thanks again to my missional hub pastor colleague for inspiring me to look beyond technology as a tool to stay connected during this time of social distancing. Also, thank you to a clergy colleague who always asks the ministry question, “Who are we missing?”
Phone Tree Connection
Churches have had phone tree connections for years. Usually, this is a system where people are grouped and someone is the leader of each group. The leader is responsible for calling and sharing information with the people on their branch of the phone tree. Often this has been used to communicate weather delays, prayer concerns/praises, etc. Many congregations have these in place, but they would be great for all congregations.
Another way that these have been organized is by alphabetical order: Sally might contact everyone whose last name begins with A-D; Danny might contact everyone whose last name begins with E-J; all the way through the end of the alphabet. This is very common and easily implemented for most congregations. The people who are already checking in on the stay-at-home saints and those healing from illness or surgeries might make great phone tree leaders.
Many congregations have a formal pictorial membership directory for their congregations.
Others might have a printed contact list for their congregations. Encourage congregation members to pray daily for the people that are in the directory/on the contact list. This encourages people to pray for each other by name and helps keep them connected to God and each other in prayer.
As an addition, they could also call or send a note to people to check on them and let them know they prayed for them. For a low technology adaptation, use texts and/or email.
Divide the prayer duties up in different ways. You could have someone review the directory/contact list and divide it up by page. Then, divide the page up into halves and invite two people from that page to pray for their half the people on that page. Or, each week during social distancing, pair up people in the directory/contact list with each other as prayer partners. As a prayer partner, they would agree to pray for their partner every day during the week and would call them to check in on them during the week. These prayer assignments would change every week so that they would get to connect with people they may know well or may be new connections for them. (If you have youth
or children, I would recommend doing this within their age group).
You could also do a “Pass the Peace” adaptation. Find your name in the directory/contact list. Everyone on that page and the next page are your neighbors around you. Connect with them by a phone call, card, or note that shares the peace of Christ with them. If you do not know them, you have a chance to make a new neighbor.
Remember on any given Sunday you have visitors that might not be in the directory/contact list, so think of ways you might include them, too.
Faith Formation Connection
There are several ways to continue to inspire, equip, and encourage everyone in taking next steps in their daily journey with God.
Your phone tree can also be used to send daily or weekly bible verses, two or three study questions, and a prayer. This takes very little time but is very encouraging.
If your congregants have access to cell phones, a daily verse can be texted to them. This way, everyone in the congregation is connected through reading and praying the same daily scripture. If they have an email address this can be sent to there, too.
A weekly bible verse can be sent in an encouraging card or in an envelope through the postal service on a weekly basis.
Weekly Worship Liturgy
On a weekly basis, a worship page or a weekly worship newsletter can be sent out via e-mail or postal service. The order of worship could be similar to a Sunday morning bulletin, except the prayers, sermon/devotional, song lyrics, offering moment are all written out. You can continue to include announcements, prayer requests, weekly challenges, etc. Write them in a way that makes them interactive. (Thanks to a dear lay servant, and clergy colleague in the Appalachia District for priming the pump for this idea.)
Send out a weekly bible study, Sunday School, or small group study that includes a passage of scripture and a list of questions that would be helpful for diving deeply into the scripture. This can be email/text/ or weekly mail. I am aware of a person who has had to social distance for two years due to medical condition, and is now reaching seven states and Mexico from East TN—the world is the limit!
Weekly Prayer Stations
On a weekly basis send a set of cards for prayer stations. Prayer stations are interactive ways to pray that often include an action or word for people to participate in. The Lord’s Prayer and Apostle’s Creed would be great beginning prayer stations. There are many prayer stations on the internet that are ready to print and are free. Many require materials such as paper, pencil, markers, crayons, etc.
Monthly Scripture Writing
There are many monthly scripture writing plans that can be found on the internet. They are usually thematic (for example fear, Lent, or monthly), and they encourage writing the scripture out and focusing on it and how God is speaking into it across your day. This one is low tech in that you need to have access to it, but then it can be printed and mailed out, or emailed.
We can continue our personal connections in new ways:
Weekly Coffee Call / Lunch Call
Think about setting a regularly scheduled time to connect with others by catching up over coffee during a phone call. This can be a time to chat and talk about what is happening in life, how you are doing, and pray for each other.
This can be as simple as everyone praying the Lord’s Prayer or Apostle’s Creed at the same time every day. Or, everyone reading the same scripture at a specific time during the day for a week. These could change on a weekly basis. One church is reading Psalm 91 for the next 91 days as a way to remain connected.
Frequently check in on each other with a morning (evening) call/or text. Something as simple as Good morning/evening. How are things going today? Is there anything I can do to help you today? How can I pray with you?
Write an encouraging card to one person a week. Make an encouraging phone call to one person a week. Brainstorm fun challenges that work best for your community while encouraging connection.
Have everyone choose a favorite Bible story and send it via mail or email to everyone. If it needs to be mailed through the postal service, it could be mailed out on a weekly basis.
If driving is allowed, arrange a time to visit and drive to someone’s home. Call them from the driveway or the porch while they look through the window. Seeing one another is a reminder that no one is alone (I think this one is especially important when people have limited mobility or were already a stay at home saint; you may or may not be able to do this for everyone), but is a great way to continue combat loneliness.
Some families and homes may have very little technology or want to limit their children/youth’s technology usage. As mentioned above, be very careful to follow all safety and policy regulations/guidelines when contacting children and youth.
Handwritten notes of encouragement are always meaningful for children/youth to receive. You could also use the mail to send a scripture, prayer, or creed for them to read/hear each day during the week. You could encourage teams to (remotely) put together activity packets (including Bible trivia games, scripture puzzles, bible verse scavenger hunts) and/or worship packets (including a Bible story, coloring page/activity/and prayer). All of these can be sent weekly via the postal service or email.
Listen and look for where God is already at work in the community, neighborhoods, congregation. Then, listen in prayer as to where you could join God in ministry.
Check in with your missional hubs and pray together regarding the needs and resources you are seeing in your communities. Support each other in prayer and connect to see how you could serve together without duplicating ministries.
Community Prayer Exchange
Write down names of ministry partners, community concerns, and world prayer needs. Mix them up, and pair community prayer opportunities with congregation members. Organize it so that you might have people with the last name beginning with A-B praying for local school children; C-D praying for first responders, etc. Send this prayer via postal service mail.
Meeting Community Needs
Check in with local school systems. Many are distributing meals while they are practicing social distancing. This is helping students and families have the food that they count on and need.
Send a card to a nursing home resident during the week. This can just say To resident of (name of nursing home) and the nurses will help it get to a person that needs that special touch.
Pick up groceries, medications, and run limited errands for those in the community and congregation that cannot.
Thank a first responder, delivery person, or grocery, restaurant, and convenience store employee.
Smile, speak, or wave as you pass people throughout the day. Just seeing people is a simple act of love that goes a long way!
Generous Giving Connections
Be generous in your gratitude regarding the gifts, tithes, and offerings that are given in these hard times. Send a thank you card, note, text, email sharing how generous giving continues the mission of the church.Be generous in your gratitude regarding the gifts, tithes, and offerings that are given in these hard times. Click To Tweet
Encourage Consistent Giving
Encourage consistent giving even in this time when people are not physically present to make giving as easy as possible. Send information regarding the giving opportunities. This might be instructions for mailing a check, or having one or two persons at the church for a limited number of hours one day a week to receive (with distancing) gifts and tithes. You could set up a dropbox in a secure location outside the church so that people can leave a check without having to come in contact with others. Consider sending a note that explains these options along with thank you messages for any and all generosity.
I rejoice and give thanks for each of you and God’s ministry within you. Blessed are you who carry the light in these challenging times. Thank you for taking time to read, share, and consider some of the ideas for connecting with people in no to low technology communities, neighborhoods, and congregations. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
No Tech Low Tech Ministry Ideas for Local Churches originally appeared at the Holston Conference website. Reprinted with permission.
Susan Arnold is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, currently serving Blountville United Methodist Church